The Conservative Manifesto contained a headline commitment to “ensure local people have more control over planning” Yet power still rests with central/local government and with developers it appears. Just ask the Protest Against The Development Of Coast Drive Car Park (Greatstone) the Save Princes Parade Group, the Otterpool Park Development how much control over planning, they as local people have. There are many other groups across Shepway who feel the same.
The planning system is one of the fundamental pillars of local democracy, allowing our communities to help shape the physical structure of the places we live in. But it would appear that some of our elected District Councillors are more interested in donations (more of that later) than they are their constituents, who elect them.
Many believe that the very process of consultation seems to be frustrating and radicalising consultees into adversaries, not placating them as being ‘heard’, nor having any control. There is a feeling that Shepway District Council’s consultations are a sham, nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to ward off legal action of the decision-making process.
So, what are the responsibilities of public bodies such as Shepway District Council to consult? Since April 2009, all bodies in England, except police authorities, have had a statutory duty to “inform, consult and involve”. This means they must consult individuals, groups, businesses or organisations likely to be affected by the proposed actions – although the obligation can be fulfilled by consulting “representatives”.
The Consultation Institute identify three common failings. First, incomplete information can be provided, thus invalidating a consultation. The second common problem, is to a failure to carry out a full equality and impact assessment. The third – failure to report the results of a consultation – poses a greater threat to credibility. It is essential, to publish both an output report, that describes the responses received, and an outcomes report describing what happened as a consequence. Research by the institute has suggested that in only 40% of cases is it possible to follow a clear audit trail from outcomes back to what was said in consultations.
If they don’t publish the evidence of what people have submitted, people are left with a sneaking suspicion – justifiably or unjustifiably – that they (SDC) have cherry-picked something that suits them.
To support this sentiment held by some, if not many across the district the Local Government Information Unit have recently carried out a survey of 1200 ward Cllrs – commissioned by the National Trust which revealed councillors’ view that the planning system works in the interests of developers over councils and local communities.
The report highlights that
Over half of councillors say that sites that are not in line with the Council’s plan are being approved for housing in their area.
There are also concerns about Green Belt release and the loosening of the planning system through the introduction of permitted development rights for home extensions, office to residential use conversion, barn conversions and other changes of use.
Councillors also have concerns about the under-resourcing of planning teams.
Question Seven of the survey asks
Now does it surprise you that residents are seen as the least powerful voice in the planning process? So have the Conservatives kept their manifesto promise?
The National Planning Policy Framework clearly sets out the principle that planning should “be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, with succinct local and neighbourhood plans setting out a positive vision for the future of the area.”
Cllrs such as Jennifer Hollingsbee, Susan Carey, Peter Simmons, David Owen, Michael Lyons, Alan Ewart-James and others, appear to take very little notice of their constituents concerns regarding development across the district. Yet the Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association are prepared to take £9000 from Quinn Wilson Estates (1) Ltd and £3000 from Landcap Development Eversley Ltd, £2500 from Peter Tory Chairman of Pentland Homes Ltd and many other developers across the years (scroll to bottom of the page). Of course donations are perfectly legal, but donors often expect something in return for their money. Is it any wonder then that constituents in Shepway believe developers have the ear of our elected Cllrs and the council, and the peoples voice is so often not listened to? We’ll leave you to decide that.
If you wish to read the recent report undertaken by the LGiU and commissioned by the National Trust you can download it from here.
And as for the Political Donations you can see them by clicking on the link below.
(Source The Electoral Commission)
There are legitimate reasons for donations. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in this blog post have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.